When I was in seventh grade a close friend of my family died. He was a older man with wrinkled hands and a knack for telling the same stories over and over again. Warren Craig was his name; a gentle man who treated me like his own grandson, giving me his old 1890 hunting rifle and golden ring when he passed on. My mom told me after he died that he was a man who knew God. At his funereal I took one look at his body and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Warren was gone. I got up to speak and told everyone that I was glad for Warren. After seeing him is such awful pain for so long I was relived for his release. I said that " all that is left in that casket are the chains that held him down."
If I were asked what it meant to die as a Christian 2 years ago I would have said: " When I die my soul will soar to heaven to be with God for eternity, and the flesh that I that was the prison of my soul will rot in the ground." I guess I had always assumed that somewhere in the Bible Jesus sat down his disciples and said "Okay fellas here is how it is going to go down."
Yet as I have matured in my faith and studied the Word, I did not find it anywhere. That is until I took philosophy in high school. My philosophy teacher, a bright, fun and jovial man, handed out Plato's "The Apology" as assigned reading. It was dense, hard to read and incredibly exciting. As Socrates explained how he did not fear death, I wanted to shout a loud, AMEN brother! As Plato spoke of the immortality of the soul and the prison of the material I felt shivers run up my spine. It was not the voice of Jesus or Paul that laid it out straight, it was the voices of these Greek Pagans! I kept wondering if Socrates and Plato were in heaven, or if they had been inspired to write the word of God just like the prophets of Israel. How exciting it was to read a defense of " Absolute Truth" or toy with the Idea of the forms. These men were my heroes and made me serious about being a Philosophy Theology major in college.
I had assumed the reason my evangelical faith, and the Platonic worldview matched up so well was because I thought both were inspired by God, but I soon realized there were other plausible explanations. Namely that the Church was infected with Plato, rather than Plato being infected with the Church. It took a while but I started to see that the vast majority of the Christian Canon spoke not of some sort of disembodied spiritual Paradise, but of a physical resurrection and a New Earth at the end of the age.
The difference between these two ideas is substantial, one says that God's creation is able to be redeemed, the other that God's creation is really just a prison for the spirit. Plato sees all of the physical world as a aberration, a false shadow on a cave wall, where Christian Orthodoxy sees Creation as fallen, but by the Grace of God able to be restored.
Why would God create the Garden of Eden (a physical thing) and Humans (not specters) to inhabit it if he did not want the Physical world to reflect his glory. As a Christian I look forward to the end of the age where I don't float off to some spiritual reality, but am resurrected along with the rest of the Church. I look forward to taking part in that which Adam robbed me of; and that which through Christ has been made new.
There is one substantial difference however between evangelical's misguided hope, and Plato's hope. The hope of the evangelical is still placed on the redeeming Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hope may be misguided by Plato, but it is not misplaced in the God of Israel.
It is true that when I looked into the casket of Warren Craig I saw the chains that held him down, but those chains were not his body in and of itself, but rather the sin that had eroded Gods good creation. And some day Warren Craig will rise from the dead, free from those chains, free from the curse of death not because of his faith in the ideal of heaven, but because of his faith in the person of Christ.